CRAIS: EXCERPT - VOODOO RIVER
I met Jodi Taylor and her manager for lunch on the
Coast Highway in Malibu, not far from Paradise Cove and the Malibu Colony. The
restaurant was perched in the rocks overlooking the ocean,
and owned by a chef who had his own cooking show on public
television. A saucier. The restaurant was bright and airy,
with spectacular views of the coast to the east and the Channel Islands
to the south. A grilled tuna sandwich cost eighteen dollars. A side of
fries cost seven-fifty. They were called frites.
Jodi Taylor said, "Mr. Cole, can
you keep a secret?"
"That depends, Ms. Taylor.
What kind of secret did you have in mind?"
Sid Markowitz leaned forward, as
if he viewed me with suspicion. "This meeting. Like I
told you on the phone, no one is to know that weíve talked to
you, or what weíve discussed, whether you take the job or not. We okay on that?" Sid Markowitz was Jodi Taylorís personal manager,
and he looked like a frog.
"Sure," I said.
"Secret. Iím up to that."
Sid Markowitz didnít seem
convinced. "Yeah, you say that now, but I wanna make
sure you mean it. Weíre talking about a celebrity here." He made a
little hand move toward Jodi Taylor. "We fill you in, you could run to a phone, the Enquirer might pay you fifteen, twenty grand for
I frowned. "Is that
Markowitz frowned back at me.
"Donít joke about that." Very suspicious.
Jodi Taylor was hiding behind
oversized sunglasses, a loose-fitting manís jean jacket,
and a blue Dodgers baseball cap pulled low on her forehead. She was
without makeup, and her curly, dusky-red hair had been pulled into a pony tail through the little hole in the back of the cap. With the
glasses and the baggy clothes and the hiding, she didnít
look like the character she played on national television
every week, but people still stared. I wondered if they,
too, thought she looked nervous. She said, "You wouldnít breach
our confidence, would you, Mr. Cole?"
"No, maíam. I wouldnít."
She looked back at Sid Markowitz.
"Peter said we could trust him. Peter said heís the
best there is at this kind of thing, and that he is absolutely trustworthy."
Trustworthy. I liked that. She turned back to me. "Peter likes
you quite a bit, you know."
"Yes. Itís mutual."
Peter Alan Nelsen was the worldís third most successful
director, right behind Spielberg and Lucas. Action adventure stuff.
I had done some work for him once, and he valued the results.
Markowitz said, "Hey, Peterís a
pal, but heís not paid to worry about you. I wanna be
sure about this guy."
I made a zipper move across my
mouth. "I promise, Sid. I wonít breathe a
He looked uncertain.
"Not for less than
twenty-five. For twenty-five all bets are off." Sid
Markowitz crossed his arms and sat back, his lips a tight little pucker.
"Oh, thatís just great. Thatís wonderful. A comedian." A
waiter with a tan as rich as brown leather appeared, and the three of us
sat without speaking as he served our food. I had ordered the mahi-mahi salad
with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Sid Markowitz was having the duck
tortellini. Jodi Taylor was having water. Perhaps she had eaten here before.
I tasted the mahi-mahi. Dry.
When the waiter was gone, Jodi
Taylor quietly said, "What do you know about
"Sid faxed a studio press
release and a couple of articles to me when he called."
"Did you read them?"
"Yes, maíam." All
three articles had said pretty much the same thing, most
of which I had known. Jodi Taylor was the star of the new hit television
series, Songbird, in which she played the loving wife of a small town
Nebraskan sheriff and the mother of five blond ragamuffin children who juggled
her family with her dreams of becoming a singer. Television. The PR characterized
Songbird as a thoughtful series which stressed traditional values,
and family and church groups around the nation had agreed. Their support
had made Songbird an unexpected dramatic hit, regularly smashing its time
slot competition, and major corporate sponsors had lined up to take advantage
of the showís appeal. Jodi Taylor had been given the credit, with Variety
citing her Ďwarmth, humor, and sincerity as the strong and loving center
of her family.í There was talk of an Emmy. Songbird had been on for sixteen
weeks, and now, as if overnight, Jodi Taylor was a star.
She said, "Iím an adopted
child, Mr. Cole."
"Okay." The People
article had mentioned that.
She said, "Iím thirty-six
years old. Iím getting close to forty, and there are
things that I want to know." She said it quickly, as if she wanted to
get it said so that we could move on.
"Do you want to locate your
"No. That isnít what this
Sid Markowitz said, "Weíre
not looking for a big thing here, Cole. In and out, answer
the questions, let the woman get on with her life."
"In and out."
Jodi Taylor nodded. "I have
questions and I want answers. Am I prone to breast or
ovarian cancer? Is there some kind of disease thatíll show up if I have
children? You can understand that, canít you?" She nodded again, encouraging
"You want your medical
She looked relieved. "Thatís
exactly right." It was a common request from adopted
children, and I had done jobs like this before.
"Okay, Ms. Taylor. What do
you know about your birth?"
"Nothing. I donít know
anything. All I have is my birth certificate, but it doesnít
tell us anything."
Sid Markowitz took a legal
envelope from his jacket and removed a Louisiana birth
certificate with an impressed state seal. The birth certificate
said that her name was Judith Marie Taylor and that her mother was
Cecilia Burke Taylor and her father was one Steven Edward Taylor and that her place of birth was Ville Platte, Louisiana. The birth
certificate gave her date of birth as July 9, thirty-six
years ago, but it listed no time of birth, nor a weight,
nor an attending physician or hospital. I was born at 5:14
on a Tuesday morning and, because of that, had always thought of myself as
a morning person. I wondered how I would think of myself if I didnít know that. She said, "Cecilia Taylor and Steven Taylor are my
"Do they have any
information about your birth?"
"No. They adopted me through
the state, and they werenít given any more information
than what you see on the birth certificate."
A family of five was shown to a
window table behind us, and a tall woman with pale hair
was staring at Jodi. She had come in with an overweight man and
two children and an older woman who was probably the grandmother. The older
woman looked as if sheíd be more at home at a diner in Topeka. The overweight
man carried a Minolta. Tourists.
"Have you tried to find out
about yourself through the state?"
"Yes." She took out a
business card and handed it to me. "Iím using an attorney
in Baton Rouge, but the state records are sealed. That was Louisiana
law at the time of my adoption, and remains the law today. She tells
me that weíve exhausted all regular channels, and weíre at a dead end. She recommended that I hire a private investigator, and Peter
recommended you. If you agree to help, youíll need to
coordinate what you do through her."
I looked at the card. Sonnier,
Melancon, & Burke, Attorneys at Law. And under that,
Lucille Chenier, Associate. There was an address in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Sid leaned forward, giving me the
frog again. "Maybe now you know why Iím making the
big deal about keeping this secret. Some scumbag tabloid would
pay a fortune for this. ĎFamous actress searches for real parents.í"
Jodi Taylor said, "My mom
and dad are my real parents."
Sid made the little hand move.
"Sure, kid. You bet."
She said, "I mean it,
Sid." Her voice was tense.
The tall woman with the pale hair
said something to the overweight man and he looked our
way, too. The older woman was looking around, but you could
tell she didnít see us.
Jodi said, "If you find
these people, I have no wish to meet them, and I donít
want them to know who I am. I donít want anyone to know that youíre doing
this, and I want you to promise me that anything you find out about me or
my biological relatives will remain absolutely confidential between us. Do
you promise that?"
Sid said, "They find out
theyíre related to Jodi Taylor, they might take advantage."
He rubbed his thumb across his fingertips. Money.
Jodi Taylor was still with me,
her eyes locked on mine as if this was the most important
thing in the world. "Do you swear that whatever you find will stay
"The card says confidential,
Ms. Taylor. If I work for you, Iím working for
Jodi rocked softly and looked at
Sid. Sid spread his hands. He said, "Whatever you
want to do, kid."
She looked back at me, and
nodded. "Hire him."
I said, "I canít do it
from here. Iíll have to go to Louisiana, and, possibly,
other places, and, if I do, the expenses could be considerable."
Sid said, "So whatís
"My fee is three thousand
dollars, plus the expenses."
Sid Markowitz took out a check
and a pen and wrote without comment.
"Iíll want to speak with
the attorney. I may have to discuss what I find with her.
Is that okay?"
Jodi Taylor said, "Of
course. Iíll call her this afternoon and tell her to
expect you. You can keep her card." She glanced at the door, anxious to leave. You hire the detective, you let him worry about it.
Sid made a writing motion in the
air and the waiter brought the check.
The woman with the pale hair
looked our way again, then spoke to her husband. The two
of them stood, and came over, the man holding his camera.
I said, "Weíve got
Jodi Taylor and Sid Markowitz
turned just as they arrived. The man was grinning as if he
had just made thirty-second degree Mason. The woman said, "Excuse
us, but are you Jodi Taylor?" In the space of a
breath Jodi Taylor put away the things that troubled her
and smiled the smile that thirty million Americans saw every week. It was
worth seeing. Jodi Taylor was thirty-six years old, and beautiful in the way
that only women with a measure of maturity can be beautiful. Not like in a
fashion magazine. Not like a model. There was a quality of realness about her that let you feel that you might meet her at a supermarket or
in church or at the PTA. She had soft hazel eyes and dark
skin and one front tooth slightly overlapped the other.
When she gave you the smile her heart smiled, too, and you
felt it was genuine. Maybe it was that quality that was making her
a star. "Iím Jodi Taylor," she said.
The overweight man said,
"Miss Taylor, could I get a picture of you and Denise?"
Jodi looked at the woman.
"Are you Denise?"
Denise said, "Itís so
wonderful to meet you. We love your show."
Jodi smiled wider, and if you had
never before met or seen her, in that moment you would
fall in love. She offered her hand, and said, "Lean close and
letís get our picture."
The overweight man beamed like a
six-year-old on Christmas morning. Denise leaned close and
Jodi took off her sunglasses and the maitre dí and two
of the waiters hovered, nervous. Sid waved them away.
The overweight man snapped the
picture, then said how much everybody back home loved
Songbird, and then they went back to their table, smiling and pleased
with themselves. Jodi Taylor replaced the sunglasses and folded her hands
in her lap and stared at some indeterminate point beyond my shoulder, as
if whatever she saw had drawn her to a neutral place.
I said, "That was very nice
of you. Iíve been with several people who would not have
been as kind."
Sid said, "Money in the
bank. You see how they love her?"
Jodi Taylor looked at Sid
Markowitz without expression, and then she looked back at
me. Her eyes seemed tired and obscured by something that intruded.
"Yes, well. If thereís anything else you need, please call Sid."
She gathered her things and stood
to leave. Business was finished.
I stayed seated. "What are
you afraid of, Ms. Taylor?"
Jodi Taylor walked away from the
table and out the door without answering.
Sid Markowitz said, "Forget
it. You know how it is with actresses."
Outside, I watched Jodi Taylor
and Sid Markowitz drive away in Markowitzís twelve
cylinder Jaguar while a parking attendant who looked like Fabio
ran to get my car. Neither Sid nor Jodi waved as they left, and neither
of them had said good-bye, but whatís mere rudeness to a tough guy like
From the parking lot, you could
look down on the beach and see young men and women in
wetsuits carrying short pointy boogie boards into the surf. They
would run laughing into the surf where they would belly flop onto their boards
and paddle out past the breakwater where other surfers sat with their legs
hanging down, bobbing in the water, waiting for a wave. A little swell would
come, and they would paddle furiously to catch its crest. They would stand
and ride the little wave into the shallows where they would turn around and
paddle out to wait some more. They did it again and again, and the waves were
always small, but maybe each time they paddled out they were thinking that
the next wave would be the big wave, the one that would make all the effort
have meaning. Most people are like that, and, like most people, the surfers
probably hadnít yet realized that the process was the payoff, not the waves.
When they were paddling, they looked very much like sea lions and, every
couple of years or so, a passing great white shark would get confused and
a board would come back but not the surfer.
Fabio brought my car and I drove
back along the Pacific Coast Highway toward Los Angeles.
I had thought that Jodi Taylor
might be pleased when I agreed to take the job, but she
wasnít. Yet she still wanted to hire me, still wanted me to uncover
the elements of her past. Since my own history was known to me, it held
no fear. I thought about how I might feel if the corridor of my birth held
only closed doors. Maybe, like Jodi Taylor, I would be afraid.
By the time I turned away from
the water toward my office, a dark anvil of clouds had
formed on the horizon and the ocean had grown the color of raw steel.
A storm was raging, and I thought
that it might find its way to shore.